A Family Business After All

Growing up in a family business started by my father, I saw my generation suffer from a misplaced use of abilities and stresses that negatively affected our personal relationships. I certainly never wanted to be involved in another family business.

More than a decade after I’d founded an award winning company, my newly married spouse, Will Rapp, became so passionate about what I was doing for US businesses, families and schools, that he wanted to help take it to international clients.

I told him he had to earn his own way into the business and start by working as one of our independent resellers, proving he could make a profit buying and selling through our standard pricing system. He earned the position of President of Kolbe International. Today we serve clients in 34 countries.

Will’s daughter, Amy Bruske, needed a place of refuge. A bright, hardworking, successful young career woman with a professional baseball player husband, she’d fought off a parking lot attack in LA and needed to be with us in Phoenix while her husband was on the road. She also needed to keep working, so I offered her the opportunity to do some things at Kolbe Corp for a few months. I made it clear it was not a family business, so this was just a short time deal. She made it clear that she intended to be her own person, and certainly wouldn’t be sticking around long. She immediately became irreplaceable.

That was 18 years ago. Through her efforts, she has earned a share of the company. Yesterday, I was a very proud Mom/co-owner, who was able to watch her receive the award for Business Owner of the Year from the Phoenix Chapter of NAWBO. She was nominated for her work with that organization and the leadership she provided the company during the last year; a year we not only survived a major fire and relocation of the business, but grew the business (36% in the last two years of a down economy) and created highly innovative, new products.

At a celebratory dinner with Amy’s kids and my son David’s kids last night, one of his kids said to me, “I thought Kolbe Corp was Daddy’s business.” I told her that he is the “deciderer” about many things, and owns part of the business too. Yesterday, he was out of town at meetings with senior level military leaders, discussing how Kolbe Corp could help our national defense and perhaps further our brain research.

I told David that he could never work in my business unless he had first proven himself on his own. He told me he would never want to work in a family business. He had seen what had happened among my siblings. Yet, 15 years ago he left a law firm to help us because he saw how much his combined Wharton Business School/legal training could contribute to Kolbe Corp’s mission, which he believed strongly in. Now, he is the CEO and General Counsel of Kolbe Corp.

A few months ago, one of our clients, who specializes in consulting with family businesses, commented to me that Kolbe was the best run family business he had ever seen. I, myself, work with lots of family businesses, trying to save them from the unfortunate misalignments that existed in the one I grew up in. One of the differences I point out between most of them and Kolbe Corp is that there has never been an expectation or requirement that the other five, highly successful, Kolbe/Rapp offspring would participate in the business. Another difference is that all four of us work within our Conative strengths and divide the responsibilities accordingly.

In the past, I have chosen to say that we are so different from most family businesses that Kolbe Corp is not a family business.

Today I realize Kolbe Corp is a family business.

David and Amy, as co-owners, lead a team of highly committed employees who are members of an extended family that helps us all make a difference to so many other families and businesses.

At Kolbe Corp everyone is a member of the family. Everyone is responsible for earning his or her own way, is respected for individual abilities, and has to prove a high level of commitment to a shared purpose.

I am very proud of the honor Amy won yesterday and what it says about the Kolbe Corp family.

 

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